In her seemingly endless quest to find something, anything, that will change the fail-trajectory of her downward spiraling poll numbers, one of the things Terri Lynn Land has tried is to recycle a Congressional tea party idea and take it as her own. Land has attempted to co-opt the “Transportation Empowerment Act” (TEA) or, as I like to call it, the “Force States to Raise Gas Taxes on Themselves to Fix Roads Act” (FSRGTOTFRA, pronounced “fizzerg-TOT-fra”). This legislation was orginally sponsored by ardent Tea Party Caucus members Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Tom Graves (R-GA).
Land mentions this on her website, calling it her “Michigan First plan for Roads, Bridges and Highways”. She also wrote an MLive op-ed about it earlier this month. She even ran an ad that bizarrely attempts to blame our crumbling roads on (I’m not making this up), Congressman Gary Peters, her opponent in the U.S. Senate race:
Every Michigan driver knows: our roads are a mess. On Congressman Gary Peters’ watch, Michigan gas taxes are siphoned off by Washington instead of staying here and being spent on Michigan’s crumbling roads. Washington’s Gary Peters doesn’t put Michigan first, but Terri Land will. Taking on Washington waste so our tax dollars go to address our needs, like finally fixing our roads.
In her MLive op-ed, Land talks about her time as Secretary of State and makes a pitch only a true Libertarian could buy about “partnering with business” to fix Michigan roads. I’m still not kidding:
As Michigan Secretary of State, I partnered with business to ease the permanent trailer plate process for our commercial trucking industry. In Washington, D.C., I will partner with business to fix our roads, which are critical to keeping our economy moving.
Here’s something you should know about Land’s time in office: In 2005, as Michigan was leading the country’s way into the forthcoming Great Recession, Land lobbied for and got nearly $10 million a year diverted from our state’s road repair fund to offset a mandatory budget cut due to falling tax revenues.
If you read the Executive Order issued by Gov. Jennifer Granholm which imposed the budget cuts, you see that essentially every department in the state government took a hit.
However, thanks largely to lobbying by Land, the Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature used a bill to encourage organ donation to restore almost all of the State Department’s budget cut. The bill authorized the placement of a heart insignia on the front of the drivers license of a people who agreed to be an organ donor. It also required the Secretary of State to ask people applying for a license to be a donor and then sent their information to groups who are involved in organ donations.
Republicans slipped in an extra tidbit, however, a tidbit unrelated to organ donation: they diverted $9.6 million for two fiscal years from the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) into the Transportation Administration Collection Fund (TACF), a state restricted fund created to support, in part, activities of the Michigan Department of State that was run by Land at the time. This $19.2 million diversion over two years largely restored the $10.6 million a year that Granholm’s Executive Order had taken away and got Land off the hook for making cuts to her department at the expense of road funding.
Keep in mind that all of this happened as Michigan was leading the way into the Great Recession and was still trying to recover from the decimation of our road and bridge infrastructure that happened under Republican Governor John Engler.
House Bill 4082, as enacted, amends Section 806 of the Michigan Vehicle Code to redirect revenue from the $5.00 expedited service fee from the MTF to the TACF for one fiscal year only – FY 2004-05. The amount of this one-year revenue shift is approximately $900,000 (based on FY 2003-04 transaction history). The bill also amends Section 810 of the Michigan Vehicle Code to redirect revenue from the $8.00 transfer of registration service fee from the MTF to the TACF. The bill makes this fund shift effective for two fiscal years only: FYs 2004-05 and 2005-06. The amount of this revenue shift is approximately $9.6 million in each of the two fiscal years affected.
There was, of course, vociferous pushback against this backhanded move by Republicans on Land’s behalf. The County Road Association of Michigan (CRAM) started a media campaign and lobbying effort of their own to try to stop the plundering of the MTF. In an interview with the Petoskey News, an engineer-manager of the Emmet County Road Commission, Brian Gutowski, and Pat Harmon, manager of the Charlevoix County Road Commission, had this to say:
In an interview, Gutowski said:
“Back in 1997 when we had the last fuel tax increase we thought there was language in the bill that would guarantee that fuel tax money would go directly to road projects, but we continually see our Legislature take money from the MTF and spend it on non-road projects.
“We try to budget on a year-to-year basis. With the increasing fuel prices, people won’t buy as much fuel and that will reduce funding of the MTF which in turn will affect our budgets. And from the back end, the Legislature is taking even more money away from us.
“Now every time they need money for a cause that has nothing to do with roads, our legislators will think about the MTF as a source to get that money.”
Harmon said, “The secretary of state has other ways of raising money. Why can’t they do that instead of robbing the transportation fund?”
Harmon said the reduction would mean the road commission’s current and future budgets would have to be reconsidered. Possible cuts would be in road maintenance as well as reductions in the purchase of needed equipment for the aging fleet.
The bill would authorize placement of a heart insignia on the front of the drivers license of a person who agrees to be an organ donor and require the Secretary of State to ask each licensee to be a donor and then send donor information to the appropriate organ procurement organization.
“In the scheme of things $10 million for a single year is probably not a lot, but it goes through 2009 and no one signed up for five years of it,” CRAM’s Noyola said.
“They could jack up the TAC (Transportation Administration Collection fund), fees ranging from $2 on up that are added to such things as registrations, expedited titles and so on.
“The TAC fees bring in some $68.4 million now which could be increased if necessary without touching road funds. Let the TAC fund do what it’s supposed to do,” he said.
An op-ed in the now-defunct Ann Arbor News excoriated legislators and Land herself for what they call “a back-room deal [that] tacked on an amendment to the bill just before it was passed by the House”:
Rep John Gleason, D-Flushing, who received a kidney transplant in 2001 and authored 4082, is livid at the last-minute change.
“There’s no correlation between those two bills,” Gleason said. “It was inappropriate that they would tag a spending bill on with a driver’s license bill. It should have never happened.”
No, it shouldn’t have. […]
[W]ith $20 million annually from the transportation fund already going to her office, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is getting her fair share of money that’s clearly intended primarily for road repairs in a state desperately in need of them.
Should Land be unable or unwilling to close her budget gap with cuts, she should consider raising a variety of fees. Of course, a transfer from the MTF probably wouldn’t become an election issue, while a fee increase might.
Though the legislature trimmed back the “gift” to the State Department for two years instead of five, the net impact was a shift of $19.2 million from the MTF to the TACF which helped Land avoid having to make the tough cuts to her department that most of the other government agencies were forced to make due to plummeting tax revenues.
Once the bill was passed, Land praised it, failing to mention the diversion of road funds to her department:
“I am very proud of the work the department has been doing to help increase organ donor awareness,” Land said. “Through efforts such as Buddy Day, the Organ and Tissue Donor Advisory Committee and our donor enrollment program, we have increased the number of names on the state’s donor registry by hundreds of thousands.
“But much more needs to be done. Only about 8 percent of Michigan’s 10 million residents are currently enrolled. With this legislation, the department is provided with new tools to help significantly increase that number of donors and potentially save even more lives.”
Land thanked the bill sponsors for directing Senate Bill 301 and House Bills 4082, 4469 and 4470 through the Legislature.
“Senator Jud Gilbert and Representatives John Gleason and Philip LaJoy provided the legislative oversight needed to move this important legislation forward,” she said. “As a result, thousands of Michigan residents waiting for a lifesaving transplant will now have new hope.”
She should have thanked them for the $19.2 million diversion of road repair funds while she was at it.
Terri Lynn Land’s effort to try to pin the current lack of road funding on Gary Peters is ludicrous since he is hardly responsible for how federal transportation funds are administered. The “solution” that she stole from the “Force States to Raise Gas Taxes on Themselves to Fix Roads Act” would only serve to increase the tax bills of Michiganders. That is IF Republicans who control our state legislature could even be convinced to replace the lost federal revenue with increased state taxes. Worse yet, she’s a complete hypocrite on road funding when she herself lobbied for amending the legislation that created Public Act 141 of 2005 and sneakily diverted funds from the Michigan Transportation Fund into her department under the guise of an organ donor bill.
Land’s hypocrisy on this issue is nauseating and proves once again that she can’t be trusted to tell the truth and is not qualified to run for the U.S. Senate, much less be elected.
Research on this piece was provided in part by American Bridge, “a progressive research and communications organization committed to holding Republicans accountable for their words and actions and helping you ascertain when Republican candidates are pretending to be something they’re not.”